“The Golden Compass” — Just how dead is God?

In my previous post I reviewed The Golden Compass as a movie and didn’t go into the more controversial aspects of the story — that of its portrayal of the Church and of God. However, I didn’t want to simply let those things go after having responded to a critic of the story two posts ago; now that I’ve seen the movie for myself, what do I say?

Well, perhaps most notably, is that there was no character in the movie that went by the name of God. ((Or Yahweh or Jesus or Jehovah, or anything else.)) This movie did not portray the death of God. Actually, if the movies stick to what the books portray, that won’t happen until the third film, though apparently TGC‘s God character simply dies of old age, despite an attempt by the story’s protagonist to help him.

Anyway, in light of that, I do not think TGC the movie will do no more harm to the idea of “God” than a 24-hour clock would.

24 Hour Clock

Within the world of TGC there exists an entity known as the Magisterium. This Magisterium is the ruling power of the world and has its hands in just about everything — including scientific progress. As Nicole Kidman’s character — who worked for the Magisterium — put it, they tell people what to do in a “kindly” sort of way in order to keep people out of trouble.

Disobeying the Magisterium is of course seen as a challenge to Authority, and such disobedience may be punished as heresy.

I cannot help but be reminded of an episode of Star Trek: Voyager called “Distant Origin”; in it, an alien scientist believes that his reptilian race, the Voth, had its origins on Earth, thousands upon thousands of lightyears away from their current home. Upon tracking down Voyager, the scientist Forra Gegan confirms his findings that humans and his race have the same genetic ancestry. The Voth Ministry of Elders, however, condemn his findings as heresy against Doctrine.

It doesn’t take a Masters of Divinity degree to realize that both the Magisterium & the Voth Ministry of Elders are meant to represent Christianity and its attempts to maintain power.

Forra Gegan and a Human Skull

But is that real Christianity? Or is it simply a straw man which is far easier to knock down than characterizing those who actually live out what Jesus taught?

To be quite honest after having seen the first movie, I get the impression that Philip Pullman (TGC author) doesn’t so much have a problem with Christianity but with authority in general. The protagonist Lyra points out that she doesn’t like to be told what to do, and neither does her father, who the Magisterium attempted to kill due to his research into Dust. ((In the world of TGC, Dust is supposed to represent Original Sin, though it seems much more like the concept of the Age of Accountability; either way, the Magisterium seeks to suppress knowledge of Dust, which is odd — one would expect a type of the Christian Church to be the one teaching a corresponding type of sin…))

All told, the plight of the film’s protagonists against the Magisterium seems more like V attempting to overthrow the British government ((See V for Vendetta.)) than it does atheists attempting to do whatever it is they do to irk Christian/government/thing… ((Seriously, the only real life entity which comes close to the Magisterium is the Roman Catholic Church, and I certainly don’t equate them with Christianity.))

Is the message threatening? Perhaps, if you’re defending an Orwellian churchstate.

The movie was not without its flaws — both in its story and in its morality — but a threat to the concept of God in the minds of children it is not. If it is, I cannot help but wonder how weak an idea of God is being presented to children within the Church.

3 thoughts on ““The Golden Compass” — Just how dead is God?”

  1. Ok, I read it and still think it is more anti-authority then anti-God. I really don’t see the God connection, but I don’t study religion as much as you. I also see Lyra as someone who does good, not just someone who questions authority. And didn’t Jesus get in trouble for questioning authority? We will see how I feel after I read the book.

  2. Well, this movie was more anti-authority than it was anti-God. However, the authority that it was being “anti-” to was a thinly veiled Roman Catholic Church, particularly like when the Inquisition was going on.

    Lyra made an interesting heroine, but she is not without her faults. And I’ve noticed that very few people — Christians included — are pointing out just how much of a virtue her lying is made out to seem — it always gets her out of trouble and she never is corrected for it. But we’re all liars, so I can’t really make a [i]huge[/i] deal out of that. Actually, that may be why it doesn’t get mentioned much.


    Questioning authority isn’t *really* what got Jesus into trouble with the Jewish leaders; their primary problem with my Lord was that He claimed to be God and claimed to do things that only God can do — forgiving sins, for instance.

    However, His “blasphemy” certainly did challenge the leaders’ authority; if He was God, everything He taught them would be the absolute truth… and time and time again, He repeatedly knocked down the house of cards which was their traditions.

  3. spooky – i have just finished reading 1984 and just started reading Northern Lights (the title TGC was published as in the UK). Pulman was lecturing at the same college I studied theology at and I attended one of his lectures (yawn)

    will let you know what i make of it.

    i am not sure you can make to much of plot devices that uses the Catholic church (or thinly veiled models of it) as this is clearly a well established part of our history and culture. Similar plots are seen in the later series of Star Gate SG1 and form the bases of many Fantasy books.

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